In recent years, fruit and veg has moved on from fending off illness and keeping things flowing smoothly. First cherries proved popular as a recovery aid. Then Exeter University’s Andy Jones showed the endurance benefits of consuming beetroot. Now an increasing school of thought suggests blackcurrants, specifically from New Zealand, should enter your performance larder.
Research in the Journal ‘Sports’, undertaken by Mark Willems of Chichester University (pictured, below), showed that consuming 300mg of New Zealand blackcurrant extract – here a product entitled CurraNZ – each day for a week increased the individual’s ability to reproduce maximal sprints and a subsequent run to exhaustion. Although Willems and his team focused on team sports that involve numerous maximal sprints, clearly there are repercussions in triathlon.
“For several years the polyphenols within blackcurrants have been associated with many health benefits, especially in clinical populations,” explained Willems. “However, we’ve conducted a series of studies over the past few years examining its impact on sports and exercise.”
In the past, Willems and his team have studied how a seven-day intake of New Zealand blackcurrant extract affected athletes during a 16.1km cycling time-trial, the results showing that competitors could race 2.4% faster after consuming the berries. They’ve also shown an increase in run endurance, pinned down to the fat-burning properties of Kiwi blackcurrants.
Why is down to myriad of reasons, though primarily it’s down to the polyphenols in the blackcurrant increasing bloodflow to the muscles. As well as increasing fat-burning, further studies have shown this reduces recovery time and boosts the immune system. Willems also suggests it might contain buffering capabilities – reducing acidic levels in the blood
– which could pay off in a high-intensity activity like a time-trial; though this has yet to be proved. What is clear: NZ berries are best…
“They contain one of the highest concentrations of polyphenols, antioxidants and anthocyanins in the world,” says Willems. “And it’s those active ingredients that deliver the performance benefits.”
Willems has conducted swathes of research on this topic and it’d be beneficial to see other exercise physiologists and sports scientists test the efficacy of the product, too. That’s what happened to Jones, his initial research into beetroot being followed up by many respected figures around the world and presented at international nutrition conferences.
- To enjoy the potential benefits of blackcurrant extract, you need to take it chronically rather than acutely. This means over time rather than a one-off. Studies show a 300mg extract taken for days begins to show performance benefits. Just ensure anthocyanin level is a minimum 50mg.
- Further research has shown that consuming 250ml of blackcurrant juice daily reduces markers associated with cardiovascular disease and may have endurance benefits. How your teeth might react is another matter…